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Sybase EAServer: Taking Control -Object Pooling

Memory/Object Pooling
Memory allocation is an expensive task in any system. Whether it’s a C program doing malloc or a Java program creating objects on the fly, the system has to constantly go to memory handler and request for more memory. Releasing used memory was also a problem, it took resources, and not releasing properly caused memory leaks. Java came up with Garbage collection (gc), but even this uses a lot of resources, if not setup properly.

In a heavily used system, this means the system will be spending considerable amount of time in object creation and destruction (this will be done by Garbage collection). To alleviate this problem, some type of pooling (or caching) method is often used. Simply put, this is where memory released is held in a pool and reused when the next person asks for it. This way we reduce the number of times objects are created or released.

EA Server offers Object Pooling for components deployed to EA server. When this option is turned on for a component, the object instances are pooled before returning to memory.

EA Server/PB settings that effect Pooling
Our Software uses object pooling option available in EA Server. This option is external to the PB language and is part of EA Server administration. The settings are available in component Properties -> Instances tab in Jaguar Manager.

Below setting enables Pooling for a component in EA Server, if checked.


Fig 1: This defines if pooling needs to be used for a particular object.

Below settings for the component in EA Server define how and when Pooling of the object can take place. As mentioned in the note, an object instance is kept in the pool only if it doesn’t exceed maximum setting. In this case, the pool will have at least 3 instances at any time. By adjusting these settings we can optimize the memory handling for the object. Too low setting for the minimum will cause more frequent garbage collection and too high will keep too many instances in the pool, thus wasting memory.

On the other hand, “Maximum Pooled Instances” setting effects how many can be kept in the pool. In a scenario where this object is constantly requested, increasing maximum setting will help. Again, this also means too many will be sitting in the pool during idle times.

Fig 2:
These settings define how instances of the object are pooled.

PB settings for Pooling
The below PB settings only decide if the releasing of object reference from PB side is automatic or manual. These settings are set at the component level in EAServer Component Generator (Project Painter).

The actual pooling is effected by the settings on the EA Server side, as mentioned above.



Fig 3: This shows the settings on the PB side.


EA Server object instance life cycle

Below image is a capture of a visio diagram (attached) that attempts to show how pooling plays a role when objects are created from Powerbuilder code. As mentioned, Auto demarcation affects how the object references are released (automatic or manual) on the PB side.

When pooling is enabled for the object on the EA Server side (see Fig1), once the references are released the object instance is typically qualified for garbage collection.

If pooling is enabled, the object instance is then returned to Object Pool in EA Server, if the other conditions are met (see Fig 2).


Fig 3: Object Life Cycle during a typical method call





PB 101 – Contd… Project Workspace

As mentioned earlier, PB is geared up for developing applications for various platforms. We saw how the IDE is built around the Project Workspace, and the tools it provides to access every in the workspace. First let’s define the various parts of a Powerbuilder based software development project.


PB 101 – Contd… Powerbuilder IDE

Powerbuilder IDE

PB IDE, just like any other windows application is an MDI application. It is made up of several windows and menus and toolbars. When you open the IDE, it opens up with no Workspace. You need to create/open a Workspace (using options in File menu) to work on a specific project. A  Workspace wraps around one or more Targets which in turn includes one or more Libraries. The libraries contain the objects. The objects themselves have properties and methods like in any Object oriented environment. The objects also contain events as Powerbuilder is an event driven programming environment.

Navigation through the project hierarchy is available through a tool called System Tree. The IDE also contains a full menu toolbar called Powerbar that lets you perform several tasks including creating various components in the project hierarchy. The IDE is made up of several individual tools and wizards, which are called Painters. There is a painter for each type of object and each task in PB.

System Tree & Powerbar

The System Tree is a project explorer. This let’s you see the project hierarchy mentioned above, in a tree like fashion. The TreeView object fits this hierarchical structure perfectly. The topmost parent in the tree is the Project Workspace. You can drill down targets and libraries to object properties and methods here. You can expand or collapse at any level in the tree. You can open any existing objects in the System Tree (by double-clicking on them).

Powerbar is the Powerbuilder menu Toolbar containing buttons for important menu items.  You can create new objects by Clicking on the “New” button in Powerbar (or File->New option in the menu).

Clicking on New opens up a pop-up window that has several options (buttons) to open various wizards and tools in PB. You can create workspace, target, PB objects including windows, menus, datawindows from here. You can also open up several tools and wizards, such as Library explorer, Database wizard, File Editor, PB Profiler etc, by creating “New” instances of these. Every such wizard or tool in PB is called a Painter.

Powerbuilder System Tree and Powerbar

Fig 1 – Powerbuilder System Tree & Powerbar

PB New Options – Here showing several types of PB Objects

Fig 2- New Option in Powerbar leads to “New” options Pop-up


As mentioned above Powerbuilder IDE is essentially made of several Painters. Each specific component type has it’s own Painter (Object Editor) and several tasks have associated Painters (Tools or Wizards). So you will see Window Painter, Datawindow Painter, Database Painter, Library Painter etc. Each Painter is self-contained unit and has it’s own menu (and toolbar), a control(s) list and properties sheet. As you can see, Powerbuilder IDE itself is designed in an object oriented way.

You open the individual component painters when you open an object in System Tree View or when Click on New on he menu bar.  Several task and tool painters can be opened in Powerbar.

Here are some of the Painters are available in PB:

  • Application Painter
  • Window Painter
  • Menu Painter
  • DataWindow Painter
  • Function Painter
  • User Object Painter
  • Database Painter
  • Library Painter
  • Project Painter (this is used to build applications – sort of compiler/linker options window; more about this later).

PB IDE – Other parts

Apart from these, the IDE UI has the following components:

An Output (child) Window which shows all the messages from the PB IDE environment, such as compiler outout, error messages etc.

A To-Do List Popup – Here you can enter a “todo” list. You can enter your own laundry list of things to be done in a project. Some of the wizards in PB also create To-Do entries automatically.

PB IDE includes a Browser window, which lists out all the objects in the project. This tool is very useful in locating objects in a large project with lot of libraries. As of version 10.5, it does not have a search capability yet, but you can navigate through libraries and types of objects to easily locate an object. Once found, you can “Edit” the object.

There are also several tools and wizards available in PB. Application Profiler, Debug Window, Database Painter, EA Server Profile etc. Each of these have special Toolbars attached to them.

See below link for more information (The link is for PB 11.0, but still applicable to any version > 8.x in general).


PB 101 – Starting from scratch

the last few posts, we talked about PB a lot. My last post on Hello World gave an introduction to PB as a programming language. Now, it’s about time we introduce Powerbuilder, the programming environment itself and how to use it to successfully develop a simple application.

PB as a n-tier tool

PB started as a simple client/server tool. We and PB are now in n-tier world. This means an application could be divided into multi-tiers,  such as a client and one or more application servers connecting to the database in the backend. Even the client can be multiple, as in you may have a PB application client in the office, a web page accessing the same servers etc. Dividing the application logic into logical blocks of client and server(s) is called application partitioning. Java J2EE is a great multi-tier development environment in 3GL. PB has grown into a n-tier tool in the 4GL world.  Sybase has come up with an Application Server called EA Server (originally called Jaguar in version 7). You can now use it to build not only windows applications, but middle tier applications (Application Servers) and Web Applications as well. To handle this new world, PB has completely changed it’s own GUI as of version 7.


When you open PB (versions > 8.x), the first thing you will see is the workspace. A workspace comprises of several “Targets” each target representing a piece (partition) of the application that can be independently deployed. A target can be for different type of applications – a windows client application, a Jaguar component, a DLL, a JSP program, a .Net program etc.

To the target, you add the PB libraries, by adding it to the library list. A library list is not only for housekeeping of libraries in a target, but at run-time this serves as the search path for the application to find objects.

And to the libraries, you add objects such as Applications, windows, datawindows etc. When you create a windows client application, an application object will be automatically added to the library just created. Below images show the various parts of a workspace. We will start looking into each of these in detail in the coming posts.

More about PB from my Hello World post

In my earlier post, I wrote a very simple program in Powerbuilder (PB) to print/show Hello World. I tried to compare with many other programming languages there. In that post, there were several concepts introduced. But, being a simple post, I ignored most of the details. We will try to analyze the details here and this way explain what it means to program in PB.

Interpreted or Compiled

From that list of examples I had, there is one thing that stands out. PB looks a lot more like C/C++/Java, at least in commenting style. But, then we see it has the simplicity of Basic program that it’s usually thought of as originating from. It also has a lot of similarities with Visual Basic (For that matter with other flavors of BASIC such Power basic as well). PB is actually the tool and it uses proprietary language called PowerScript. Like BASIC this is an interpreted language, but not interactive (In a BASIC interpreter, results were displayed as soon as you type a command (or a command block) and press ENTER.). In PB, though the  code is interpreted, it’s not the original code that you typed in, but an intermediate code it generated when you compiled (generated) or ran. More on this below.


Object Orientedness:

PB is at the very least, an Object based language. Windows environment contains windows with several controls or widgets on each window. The various controls and windows (objects) talk to each other through events and methods (functions). Now, this itself doesn’t make it object oriented, but definitely object based. In PB (as in VB) an application is made up of several objects such as Application, Windows, Buttons, Text Boxes (and Data windows – more on this later). You cannot have a program without an application and you cannot communicate with the users without windows or buttons. So essentially when we build a PB application, we are reusing these “objects” as templates to make our own objects. Thus, by the very nature PB is Object based.

Real Object orientation came to it in later versions. A rudimentary “user object ” was introduced as early as ver 3.0 and by Ver 5.0 Pb introduced Object-oriented concepts such as function overloading. Many of us still write object based code in PB, but there have been some movements to make it more and more object oriented. There were several frameworks developed for PBincluding PFC, which is still strong in the Client/Server world. A more sophisticated EAF was developed for PB in an enterprise n-tier world.  A lot more companies seem to be dusting off their old PB programs and try to upgrade latest versions of PB. So, as a developer you will see both object-based and object-oriented code out there. This is different from Java perspective which is Object Oriented to the core, but not unlike C++ where people continue(d) to code C style programs.

User Interface (IDE)

When we did the hello world, we mentioned what we coded and what we saw. But, we did not mention how or where we coded it. A Java program can be coded in a simple text editor like Notepad or more sophisticated Eclipse or Netbeans. It can then compiled and executed in a DOS (or unix/linux) command line. Or like in Eclipse, all these functionality can be done in one tool. Such tools are called IDE – Integrated Development Environment. PB has been IDE from the beginning. In fact, you cannot code or compile PB outside Powerbuilder (not exactly true, particularly the compiling part). Unlike other tools, PB is a more complete IDE and allows you, as a developer, to debug and run from within itself. Also, the code that you put into PB is actually stored in files with the extension .pbl in proprietary format. More on these later.

PB Workspace

Powerbuilder Workspace

Types of Applications built in PB

What is not revealed in the Hello World program is what kind of programs can be written in PB. Apart from the windows programs, PB can also be a great Client/Server tool. In fact, in corporate environments it is mostly used as a Database programming tool. It’s strength lies wholly on the simplicity of database connectivity with the use of Datawindows.  With the advent of EA Server, PB can be a great n-tier development tool as well, like Java J2EE. (More on these later).

PB portability

As mentioned above, PB runs in an interpreted mode. When you compile a PB program, it gets compiled into p-code, a proprietary bytecode. In this regard PB is very much like Java. Just like Java, there are options to compile into native machine code, but typically p-code is preferred. Thus, to run a PB application, you need to install a PB runtime. This is very much like a Java VM. (In fact in EA Server terminology, this is called PB VM). So, theoretically, PB application can be ported and run anywhere PB runtime was available. There were Unix versions of PB available. But, you need a specific version of PB runtime to run a program generated with a specific version of PB. Here it is different from Java, where future runtimes are guaranteed to be backward compatible and thus can run older versions of Java classes.This makes PB less portable. Also, by the windowing nature of it, it naturally fits into Microsoft Windows. The direction Sybase is taking, seems to confirms this. PB12 is, apart from being a windows application builder, also an IDE for .Net plaform.

Starting from my next post, I will go into more details about using the product.

History of PB

Powerbuilder grew from the modest beginnings in the early 80’s to where it is now. Those of us who have worked with it for a long time know that it’s come a long way as a product. But how many of know it’s real history (sort of like the history PC programming world itself)? It was originally conceived and produced by a company called Powersoft. Now it is owned by Sybase. We all knew that it was “bought out” by Sybase in the 90’s and what it did to the product. But how many of us know the background of it? Both Powersoft, the company, and Powerbuilder, the product had their fair share of competitions from big giants, threat of hostile takeovers. After initial days of glory, it did lie in the dumps for some time and several wrote death sentence for it. Yet, time and again it came back up again and with PB 12 seems to have gained a new life. I can write about all those here. But, I won’t try to re-invent the wheel as there have been several nice posts about the subject. I am listing a few, that I liked, here:

An Article by Chris Pollach


History of Powerbuilder from the maker of PBLPeeper

A nice blog about Powerbuilder and other tools

The displaced guy or your personal IT guy on the web!

Hello World!

This is my real first post in Powerbuilder. (I wrote a lot about PB and my association with it before). Like it is customary for any tutorial or book on programming to start with a program to print Hello World, I will try to do the same in Powerbuilder.

Before I jump into it, let’s some simple ones: (I am only including the actual lines and not full program code here,  please refer to the really interesting site that prints hello world in various languages – here)

In a Pascal (and Delphi) program, you can just say,

{Hello World in Pascal}
writeln("Hello world");

In C, you can do

/*Hello World in C*/
puts("Hello World!");

In Basic Language, (which contributed to Powerbuilder’s Powerscript) you can do

10 REM Hello World in BASIC
20 PRINT "Hello World!"

Coming to the more Object oriented world,

In C++ you can write,

/*Hello World in C++*/
cout << "Hello World!" << endl;

And in Java, this would be,

/*Hello World in Java*/
System.out.println("Hello World!");

Well, almost of all of them print to a console – a text based screen, like in DOS, Unix, Linux.

The same task of showing hello world to the user takes a bit more, when it comes to a windowing world (like MS windows, X-windows, Apple mac interface). The presentation becomes little more important. After all, in such an operating environment, everything is shown inside a window, so our program needs to write into one such too! In a windowing environment, simplest way to present a text is using some type of message box, which is a small window showing the text (and may be some question buttons).  Luckily windows API offers functions to create such a messagebox with ease. Let’s see how we could do the same in Java, for a windowing environment:

/*Hello World in Java -windowing version*/
javax.swing.JOptionPane.showMessageDialog(null,"Hello world!");

Swing is a package available in Java to create an application for a windowing environment.

Coming back to what we started with, to print Hello World in Powerbuilder, we could do something like above using a messagebox. Luckily PB offers a function for that – MessageBox. So, in the simplest form, we will do,

/*Hello World in Powerbuilder-Simple*/
MessageBox("Hi from Powerbuilder", "Hello World!")

Executing the Hello function
We are almost done. In all of the examples above (except BASIC which was interpreted, you just type that one line and it did print it), we need to wrap this line in a program. In the C like languages, including Java, we would need a main function to invoke our “Hello” function.

// Hello World in Java using Swing GUI
class HelloWorldSwing {
   static public void main(String args[]) {
      javax.swing.JOptionPane.showMessageDialog(null,"Hello world!");

Main function is the entry point in various languages like C, C++, Java. This is the function that is called when the program is executed.

Powerbuilder is built slightly differently. It does have an entry point function – actually an event. This will be the open event of the Application object. Just like the class with main function becomes entry point object in Java, an Application object is the entry point object in Powerbuilder and its Open event is executed first when the application is executed. So in it’s simplest form, we simply add the Messagebox function in the application open event and just run the application. When run, this is what you will see,

Well, that’s for showing the simplest way. But a typical PB application is built not just with application object, but with one or more windows and other types of objects as well. We will see about that in a later post.

Please see my next post for more details on the PowerBuilder impmentation of Hello World.